Whether performing as a solo act or as part of Mosaic and Enchanté or nurturing aspiring performers, long-time London singer-composer, Jake Levesque, is a familiar fixture on the London artistic scene.
Jake, who turned 69 this February, recalls his Niagara Falls home as being a musical one. His mother played piano and his Aunt Margaret, who lived with the family, played the organ at a nearby Catholic church. Jake’s family was very supportive of his early musical endeavours.
“I took piano lessons from age 9 to14, picked up guitar at 15, and joined a folk/pop quartet called BitterSuite at 18,” says Jake. “Later I played with a lounge quartet called The Music Shop, which evolved into a rock trio, East West.”
Like many musicians, Levesque’s adult musical career eventually came about rather serendipitously.
A failed attempt at Engineering in 1967-68 precipitated his musical career. “At the age of 18, I was failing miserably in a course in Engineering at McGill University and I decided to switch from engineering to music,” Jake recalls. “I left Montreal and returned home to pursue my muse.”
“I was beginning to develop a musical style of my own, so with visions of stardom dancing in my brain, I decided it was time to give my dreams a try. I’ve been playing professionally ever since, sometimes full-time and sometimes part-time.”
In 1973, wanting to develop his musical skills and knowledge, Jake enrolled at the Faculty of Music at The University of Western Ontario, as it was then called. During his studies there, he played with musical groups such as The Three Man Quartet, Freeway, and Sweet Fever. In addition, he performed as a solo artist, playing occasionally at the Latin Quarter and the Elbow Room, and as an opening act at Change of Pace.
“After graduation, I continued playing and got into acting. I acted in a few shows at Centre Stage Theatre under the direction of Ken Livingstone, and in several shows with London Community Players, among others,” Jake recalls.
From 1987 to 1993, Jake was part of The Sophistikats, the house band that played on weekends at the Seven Dwarfs Restaurant.
In recent years, Jake has been a part of groups like Mosaic, Enchanté, Joint Effort, and JJ Fiasco.
A keyboardist and guitarist, Jake dabbles a bit on bass and drums, and he identifies the Beatles, Bobby McFerrin, Carlos Santana and Keith Jarrett as influences. He says he is equal parts self-taught and formal training.
“I have been blessed with a large number of wonderful teachers and fellow musicians, in both formal and informal settings, who have helped me with their guidance, collaboration, and inspiration,” says Jake.
Jake describes his musical style as “eclectic” – combining traces of classical music, folk, blues, jazz and electronic.
“Being as eclectic as I am may not get me signed to any record label, but it’s way more fun than being pigeon-holed into one genre or style,” jokes Levesque.
“I made a very amateurish demo tape of my music in 1981. Very few of those pieces have remained in my repertoire. Then in 1999 and 2003, Mosaic recorded a couple of CDs of which we are very proud. I’ve recorded two of my own CD’s, Live One in 2005 and Me Three in 2010.”
Jake has uploaded some of these pieces, and a few others, to his BandCamp page at https://jakelevesque.bandcamp.com/releases. He plans to upload more soon. Among these will be piano improvisations and instrumental compositions created with the help of computer software.
Jake has also been involved with several variety series, including June Cole’s Diversities, Richard Lehman’s Divergencies, and Sharon Laing’s London to the Max. He was also musical director at Unity of London for about ten years.
He is currently part of a weekly house concert series (Acoustic Spotlight), two creativity circles (Magic Monday and Ruby Tuesday), and a jam-session/songwriting endeavour called Belong to Song, pioneered by Catherine McInnes.
When asked, Jake is reluctant to identify highlights from his long career as he feels all his activities have been personal highlights.
However, a few do stand out.
He jokes that his late Mother would certainly point to his role as Jesus in a 1979 production of Jesus Christ Superstar as a highlight.
Jake describes the critically acclaimed trio Mosaic – consisting of himself, Catherine McInnes and Laurraine Sigouin – as one of the most exciting bands he has ever had the pleasure of working with, and he feels honoured that the group appeared at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2002.
“Mosaic remains a long-term project that we enjoy immensely. We don’t play publicly all that much, but we continue to rehearse together simply because we enjoy and appreciate each other’s company and musical talent so much,” says Levesque.
From an “artistic expression” point of view, Jake mentions Original Sins, a one-person show he created – with help from Sean Quigley – and performed at the London Fringe Festival in 2003 as a highlight. “It started out as a collection of original songs that various people found “offensive” and evolved into an attempt to explore the possibilities of finding light by confronting darkness,” Jake says.
Jake notes that “a personal highlight was discovering the joy of performing with my brilliantly talented and beloved wife, Julia Webb, in JJ Fiasco. She sings some of my songs better than I ever could.”
Unfortunately, for the past several years Jake has been dealing with the combined effects of throat cancer treatment and Parkinson’s Disease.
“I’m currently cancer-free, but the treatment had its difficulties. But the real kicker, from an artistic point of view, has been the Parkinson’s. My dexterity on guitar and piano, even my singing and acting, are severely compromised,” says Jake. “I continue to do what I can, and direct my energy less and less to performing, and more and more to teaching, helping, and encouraging.”
As a seasoned performer, Jake feels an obligation to give back to his craft.
“One of the things I am really engaged with right now is nurturing talent, particularly younger performers. It came to me quite accidentally as a result of my involvement in the Acoustic Spotlight, Ruby Tuesday and London to the Max shows where I helped people develop their musical skills and performing experience,” says Levesque.
Want to know more about Jake and what’s he up to these days?
“I send out an email every week or so with information about these and a few other arts events in the London area,” says Jake. “Anyone wishing to get on my list can send me an email at my address, firstname.lastname@example.org.”
To be sure, London is fortunate to have a dedicated artist of Jake Levesque’s ability and talent. He truly is a Creative Londoner who gives back to his community.
Prepared by Rick Young for Aging Well Magazine, March, 2019